SOUTHERN AFRICA: Universal access - the race is on!

Photo: Glenna Gordon/IRIN
Some goodnews in AIDS battle
durban, 3 April 2009 (PlusNews) - The race is on for countries in Southern Africa to meet their targets of providing universal access to care, treatment and prevention by 2010. But will they make it?

The need to meet the goals is clear: the region is the worst affected by the epidemic, and despite good intentions in many countries, the numbers of people living with the virus have remained stubbornly high.

Yet South Africa’s fourth AIDS conference heard on Thursday that the countries of the region have made “extraordinary progress” towards meeting their goals.

Mark Stirling, head of UNAIDS in southern and eastern Africa, told delegates that half the region’s HIV-positive pregnant women were accessing services to prevent transmitting the virus to their babies, and about 40 percent of those in need of treatment were getting it.

Although many countries were recording a decline in new infections, South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique were still struggling with high levels of transmission.

In Botswana, which has long been regarded as the region’s poster child for treatment provision, universal access for treatment – 80 percent – has been achieved. About 90 percent of those in need of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are receiving them, and the success of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme means that paediatric HIV could soon be eliminated.


However, Dr Khumo Seipone, director of the HIV/AIDS programme in the Health Ministry, cautioned that “Not everything is good in Botswana. The rate of HIV transmission is not going down as fast as we would like … issues of prevention are not as good as we want [them] to be.”

Seipone said this could be a result of "disinhibition" among Batswana on ARV treatment, causing people to become complacent. “Who is afraid of HIV in Botswana? It’s now seen as [a] chronic illness,” she remarked.

Admitting that there had been no coordinated approach to prevention as there had been to treatment, Seipone said the country would now be focusing on “prevention, prevention and more prevention”. For example, in April this year Botswana will start scaling up male circumcision across the country.

Elizabeth Mataka, the UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, warned that all the progress made in the region was “extremely fragile right now, if you look at the global economic downturn”.

She called on the region to hold leadership accountable, especially African leaders, to make sure that the goals were met.

“It’s very embarrassing to be holding the world to their promises [of funding the HIV/AIDS response] without demanding the same of our leaders,” Mataka told delegates.


Theme (s): Care/Treatment - PlusNews, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews, PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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